Lutheran North News

Alabama A&M QB Aqeel Glass - LN '17 Uses his Voice to Fight Social Injustice

When Aqeel Glass chose to attend Alabama A&M, he wasn’t making a statement about the value of Historically Black Colleges and Universities over other schools. It was about football.

“It’s funny, because my dad graduated from here,” he said. “Coming out of high school, I had a couple of offers, but I felt that A&M gave me the best chance to get on the field and play early.”

Now a graduate student majoring in systems and material engineering, the 21-year-old St. Louis native is the star quarterback for A&M and a standout player in the SWAC conference.

While choosing an HBCU might not have been a political statement, it’s not because Glass is afraid to lend his voice and his status to being a leader on and off campus.

Glass spoke recently with Alabama NewsCenter about being an HBCU student-athlete who believes it’s important to be outspoken about social justice and issues concerning racial equity.

Alabama NewsCenter: What has been your involvement with social justice issues?
Aqeel Glass: I’ve been talking with our (athletic director) and the heads of our university and seeing how we can do better, how we can do more. I understand we’re an HBCU, but just using my platform as much as possible to spread awareness and hopefully bring about change. Everyone has been receptive of everything we’ve said. We’ve delegated a few people from each of the sports teams and now we have meaningful conversations about it, just asking how we feel about it, what do you think we could do better as a university.

ANC: What tangible things have come out of those conversations?
Glass: Around the time of George Floyd, we marched in downtown Huntsville. COVID has prohibited us from doing a lot of things, but we try to do as much as possible.

ANC: What in your background and upbringing motivates you to be outspoken about social justice issues?
Glass: I’m biracial – my mom’s white, my dad’s Black – so without social justice, without all the influential people in civil rights, I probably wouldn’t be here. Just being able to use my platform and the blessings I’ve been given to bless others and bring awareness to people who might not have such a diverse background and diverse upbringing, who are just one-track minds. Just trying to engage in conversations to get people to open their minds.
ANC: Describe an experience when you personally encountered racism.
Glass: It kind of affected me indirectly. My dad used to get pulled over for the smallest things, and we would see it. He wouldn’t be speeding or doing nothing wrong. It was just because of his skin color, he would be stopped and harassed. That’s probably what sticks out to me the most.

ANC: Did your dad have “the talk” with you?
Glass: Yeah, he did. He always instilled in us (I have a younger brother and sister) that as African Americans and, plus, as biracials, that people are gonna look down on us before we even open our mouths. He’s always told us to control the perspective that we put out. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, who’s watching, just know that someone’s always going to have a judgment about you, whether it be good or bad. Control what you can control to be positive on society.

ANC: How much does being a student-athlete factor into you acting on your convictions? How much responsibility do you feel to be a leader on those issues?
Glass: That’s a key point for me. Whether I was in athletics or not, I feel that everybody should be treated equally, no matter what, but being a prominent face on campus factors into it a lot. When I speak, people actually listen to what I have to say.

ANC: What kind of response do you get from your peers? Do they see you as a champion, troublemaker or something in between?
Glass: I think they see me as a leader. I’m not always the most vocal, but I always strive to lead by example. I’ve been trying to use my words more, and I’ve always tried to use my words wisely. Not trying to say anything that would tick anybody off, but just being able to express my feelings in the right way.

ANC: How does competing in sports translate into fighting for equal rights for minorities? There’s struggle and competition and fight on the field; do you see that translating into how you approach social justice issues?
Glass: I do. With social justice, there’s times where you have big outbursts like what’s been happening this last year, where you have a lot of people join the fight. Then you have the down moments when it seems like it’s been put on the back burner, where everybody forgets about it. It’s a matter of taking each day, day by day. Taking each moment one step at a time. Not looking too far ahead, but focusing on the moment at hand. That goes the same way on the football field. You could be up 21 points or you could be down 21 points, but either way, you have to keep fighting and keep applying the same effort, whether you’re up or down, to either come back or stay ahead.

ANC: What post on social media or action you’ve taken has gotten the most response, or you’re most proud of?
Glass: I can’t point to anything in particular. I always try to use social media as somewhat of a motivation. My dad also says to me that I’m my own brand, so I never try to put anything that’s bad on there or would depict me in a certain way. I always try to depict that upstanding young man to be a great representation of myself and this university.

ANC: Who is your role model and why?
Glass: My mom and my dad. They both bring different perspectives to the table, but they always come to the common agreement. They’ve always taught me that there’s two things in life that you can learn from everybody: You can learn what to do and what not to do. Those two have always kept me on the right track and kept me grounded and supported me in anything I’ve ever wanted to do. They’re the biggest reason that I am where I am today and I’m the person that I am today.

ANC: In the world of sports, who is your role model and why?
Glass: When I was younger, it was Peyton Manning, just the way he carried himself on the field and off the field. Recently, it has to be Deshawn Watson. I looked up to him a lot. He wears the same number as me, and he’s a guy I’ve always tried to emulate. His leadership abilities and his calm, cool and collected demeanor.

ANC: What are your thoughts about what happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6, and how does it factor into your views about race and social justice?
Glass: I try not to let news events sway my emotions, but I was upset and disgusted. If the shoe was on other foot, the incident would have been completely different. One of the craziest things that has happened in my lifetime. It really got to me. We set up in the family room as a family and had a good two- or three-hour conversation. It was one of those things you’re never gonna forget. It’s gonna be in history books 10 or 20 years from now, and you’re gonna be like, ‘Oh, wow! I lived through that.’

ANC: What are your thoughts about the NBA players choosing not to play as a form of protest when George Floyd was killed last year?
Glass: That was huge. For them to sacrifice what they have and the things they have going for themselves, it’s amazing to think they’re willing to give that all up for others to see how truly unjust this nation really is.

ANC: Maya Moore set her WNBA career aside to work to free a man who was falsely imprisoned. How important is self-sacrifice when it comes to fighting for racial equality?
Glass: I think it’s huge, because a lot of times the people who look at us as athletes, especially professional athletes, the everyday African American might think that ‘They don’t really care about us, they have all this money, they don’t have any problems.’ But for them to put themselves in the shoes of others and show them that they’re still human, too, is huge for the fight.

ANC: Kamala Harris was just inaugurated as the first woman, first Black and first South Asian vice president in our nation’s history. What does it mean to see representation in the White House?
Glass: It’s huge, especially for young women, anyone of color, honestly, to just see that and for them to have that same dream. Usually young African American men and women are kind of programmed to think the only way to make it out is to be an athlete or an entertainer. For them to see that there are people in very high roles that look just like them is huge. They can see that it’s not only just about sports and entertainment. You can be a doctor, you can be a governor, you can be a vice president, you can be THE president. You can do whatever you set your mind to.

ANC: What do you think about the poet laureate, Amanda Gorman, who spoke at the inauguration?
Glass: It was very powerful. Just to hear those words and the emotion that she spoke them with is just amazing.

ANC: If you were an adviser to President Biden, what would you suggest he do in his first 100 days that would start to address your greatest concerns about the racial divide in America?
Glass: Honestly, I would say, actually try. There’s been plenty of presidents and politicians who have come into office and just talked about it. But you can’t just talk about it, you gotta be about it. I think he has a very solid plan in place, and I would say just follow through with it.

ANC: What’s next for you? Are there any other social justice/equal rights activities on your calendar?
Glass: As far as social justice, use my platform during the season to try and promote that as much as possible. All of my preparation has been toward the season, so as far as marches and stuff, it’s been hard to get out and do that. But I plan to use my platform to bring light and justice to that. As far as athletics, I have two more seasons left. Right now, it looks like I have a tangible opportunity to play at the next level, so I’m trying to use these next two years to sharpen my skills and get myself ready to play at the next level.

During Black History Month, Alabama NewsCenter is celebrating the culture and contributions of those who have shaped our state and those working to elevate Alabama today. Visit throughout the month for stories of Alabamians past and present.

This article was originally published here.